Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Silence: The Biblical & Biological Benefits
This past weekend, my wife and I were having a discussion on Lent and why our Baptist church doesn't have Lenten services or follow the liturgical calendar. Somehow, during our talk, she suggested, "Why don't you give up music for Lent?"
Was she crazy?
She knows that I love music. It comes right after books (Surprised she didn't go for that one). Right before coffee and chocolate. Was it because I'd just downloaded some new music off iTunes?
The next morning, after I dropped Cava off to school, I headed down I-85 to call on a store in South Carolina. Driving along, the morning was overcast, and I found myself turning the radio off. I would drive in silence.
I must admit, my mind began to race with busy, crowded thoughts. My body shifted a bit in my seat anxiously.
Couldn't I at least listen to NPR? NPR's not music.
But I didn't turn the radio back on.
No, I felt I needed to be in silence.
Silence requires us to not only turn inward but to focus outwardly on God. Would He speak in the still-small whisper that he spoke to Elijah?
My mind continued to dart about like squirrels in the yard. How was I supposed to center myself, silence my thoughts and focus on God?
Saint Basil the Great wrote that, "Silence . . . is the beginning of purifying the soul."
Is that why so many of us avoid it?
Is silence like our vegetables, we know they are good for us but we would still prefer to eat the Krispy Kreme doughnuts?
I know I typically have my iPod playing, or the radio on, or the TV on or something to fill the silence. And you can't go to a restaurant or into a store without being inundated by music and, in some places, TVs going with music playing. We cannot think or hear, either ourselves or others amidst all this jumble of sounds. Many times so much noise makes me restless and agitated. Today it was the silence.
Yet scientists will tell you that there are many health benefits to taking time out during your day to just be in silence: Doing this helps:
- lowers blood pressure
- boosts your immune system
- boosts your brain chemistry
- reduces stress
- keeps plaque from forming in arteries
- reduces pain
The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote, "Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation."
This got me to thinking about how even many of our churches are filled with noise and do not make a space for silence. We like our praise and worship with guitars and drums and keyboards. We want to hear sermons. It makes us uncomfortable to sit in silence.
Are we afraid of where the silence will lead us?
Was this why I was having such a hard time with silence?
Silence is a spiritual discipline.
Psalm 62:1 says, "For God alone my soul waits in silence . . ."
Do I take the time to worship God in silence?
I definitely don't practice enough making my own space for silence and solitude in order to just be in the presence of God without an agenda but to simply allow him that time without intrusions. In the silence, I give God alone my attention. Silence is a gift.
Do I offer that silence to my wife? My kids? To others? Listening to what they have to say without other noises intruding? Simone Weil wrote, "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." Why? Because it is focused on the other and not ourselves, whether that be God or a family member or friend.
Life too often fills us our ears and hearts with such busyness that we crowd out the whisper of God's voice.
Yet silence is the place where we can find nourishment and peace.
I would have thought that in such a time that Psalm 46:10 would have popped into my thoughts, "Be still, and know that I am God . . ." but it didn't. Instead Exodus 14:14 did. That verse says, "The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still."
He was telling me, "Do nothing. Be at rest. Be at peace. Let your mind be easy, without distress and fear. I will take care of you."
Lately, I have been full of discouragement. It would be very easy for me to doubt God, to question Him, but in this silence He was reminding me of what really needed to be done: nothing.
Into the silence of my heart He whispered.
That morning I found God met me there in the silence. This should not have surprised me because, as Emily Dickinson wrote, " . . . Silence is infinity."